DEBKAfile Exclusive Report May 1, 2011, 9:30 PM
The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah has obviously decided the Assad regime is sinking. DEBKAfile's military sources report the organization is preparing to pull its heavy, long-range weapons out of storage in Syrian military facilities – no longer sure they are safe there – and risk transporting them to Lebanon.
Last year, Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed to store Hizballah's incoming Iran-made Fatah-110 surface missiles and its Syrian equivalent the M-600 and the mobile SA-8 (Gecko) anti-air battery which holds 18 warheads with a maximum range of 12 kilometers. Tehran paid for the upkeep of the Hizballah hardware on Syrian side of the border after Israel threatened to bomb these potential game-changers if they crossed over.
Deployed at Hizballah bases in Lebanon, the Fatah-110 and M-600 would place almost every corner of Israel within range of bombardment, while the SA-8 would seriously restrict Israeli Air Force operations over southern Lebanon and Galilee.
However, as the uprising against Assad rolls ever closer to Damascus, Hizballah see a very real threat of it infecting the Syrian army and has decided that now might be its last chance to get hold of the core arsenal it has standing by for war with Israel before events get out of hand in Syria.
Hizballah's headquarters in Dahya, Beirut, became alarmed when they heard about strong resentment building up in the Syrian 11th Division over the Assad crackdown against the dissidents – among officers as well as other ranks.
The 11th Division, which is camped outside Aleppo, is the best trained and organized of all Syrian army units, equipped as its strategic reserve with the most advanced weaponry. If the unrest has reached this elite unit, Hizballah reckons there is no time to losing for pulling its missiles out of Syrian military safekeeping.
Meanwhile, top Hizballah and Iranian offices in Tehran are working on the best way to transport the missiles into Lebanon without exposing them to Israeli attack, DEBKAfile's Iranian sources report. Some of them calculate that Israel would not venture to strike them while still on Syrian soil because it would lay itself open to interfering, or even getting in the way of, the revolt against President Assad and playing into his hands.
A security emergency might well take the wind out of protest movement's sails.
But already, Tehran's Lebanese surrogate is beginning to distance itself from Bashar Assad, its longtime strategic partner and arms supplier, having decided he has his back to the wall. April 28, the Hizballah-controlled Lebanese Al Akhbar newspaper started criticizing the Assad regime on its op-ed pages.